In this article, I want to explain how to prepare the Chinese-style stuffed cabbage roll I used to make as a teenager.
The flavor still lingers on in my memory after a lapse of so many years. (Imagine my son has already married!) I still vaguely remember the process and have tweaked it, including adding a thick sauce to glaze the cabbage rolls before serving.
How to prepare the Chinese-style stuffed cabbage rolls
1. Prepare the cabbage
- Cut off the core of the cabbage with a paring knife or the tip of the chef’s knife.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and submerge the whole head of cabbage. Heat until the water comes to a boil again.
- Loosen the layer of the cabbage leaves with a pair of chopsticks or tongs. Remove the tender cabbage leaves and place them in a colander once they detach from the core.
- Continue removing the leaves, like peeling the onion. Be careful not to tear the leaves.
- Trim the thick vein of the outer leaves because these are large leaves that are less pliable when folding.
The difference between round cabbage versus napa cabbage
Both round cabbage and napa cabbage are suitable for this stuffed cabbage recipe. You need to cut off the part near the stem for napa cabbage as it is pretty thick. Use only the leafy part to wrap the stuffing. Cut the harder part into small pieces and use them as part of the filling.
If you use round cabbage, the entire piece of leaves can be used as the wrapper because it is thinner and softer than napa cabbage. In this case, I add some chopped onion to the stuffing to replace the cabbage dice so that the filling is less compact.
The cabbage leaves that are too small to use for the cabbage rolls can be kept for other recipes. For example, you can use them for cooking stir-fried cabbage with garlic and dried shrimp. You can get the recipe on this blog.
2. Prepare the stuffing for the cabbage
You only need to mix all the seasonings with the ground pork to form the stuffing. You can use pork with some fat, as lean ground pork is less juicy.
a. What if I do not eat pork?
You can use other ground meat, such as lean ground beef or ground turkey, to replace pork for cabbage rolls. Chicken meat is universal and is a good substitute for pork in most Chinese dishes.
Another great way to change the flavor is to use two portions of chicken breast meat and one portion of shrimp meat to replace the pork. You can find the recipe for the famous dim sum Shumai on this blog, in which the stuffing is a mixture of chicken and shrimp.
You can also use lamb if you like. Add one teaspoon each of cumin and coriander powder if you use minced lamb in the recipe. Using lamb, cumin, and coriander will change the flavor entirely.
b. What other ingredients can I use for the stuffing?
The choice of ingredients for the stuffed cabbage is endless. For example, the stuffing of the Japanese stuffed cabbage contains Panko (breadcrumb), similar to meatballs, and the Japanese hamburger is called Hambagu.
If you like more vegetables, you can add carrots and celery to the stuffing. Adding bamboo shoots and cloud fungus (云耳) adds crunchiness to the stuffed cabbage rolls.
c. What about using other seasonings?
The seasonings I use in this easy recipe are only my preference, which is never intended to be a fixed formula. Instead, combine various Chinese seasonings with different proportions to create the flavor you like. Here is the list of the traditional Chinese seasonings in case you are unfamiliar with them. They are light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, ground white pepper, black vinegar, and rice wine.
3. Wrap and steam the stuffed cabbage
a. Steps to steam the cabbage rolls
- Divide the stuffing by the number of stuffed cabbage rolls you want to make.
- Place a portion of the stuffing at the center of a piece of the cabbage leaf on a flat surface or a cutting board.
- Roll up the cabbage like making a Swiss roll, or enclose the filling entirely like closing an envelope.
- Arrange the cabbage rolls on a plate or a casserole dish, single layer, seam side down.
- Set up a steam station. You can use a wok or a large skillet with a lid.
- Steam the cabbage rolls over boiling water for fifteen minutes.
b. Can I change steaming to baking for this cabbage roll recipe?
The traditional Chinese method is to steam the cabbage rolls. I think this is because the oven is not the standard kitchen appliance for the Chinese. However, you can put the stuffed cabbage rolls on a baking dish to bake them.
I prefer to steam the cabbage rolls because it takes only fifteen minutes to cook, which is quicker than the oven.
c. Open-ended versus closed-ended cabbage rolls
Some cabbage roll recipes suggest cutting the cabbage into a rectangle before using it to wrap the filling. Then, they roll up the cabbage, just like making Swiss rolls, and let the filling exposed at both ends.
It is up to you whether you want to present the cabbage rolls that way or encase all the stuffing unexposed. I will expose both sides and reduce the size by half if I intend to serve it as a dim sum. Otherwise, I will wrap them like an envelope because it is easier and faster.
4. Prepare the gravy
a. Steps to prepare the gravy
- Pour the liquid released from the stuffed cabbage rolls during steaming into a pan.
- Add the water to soak the mushrooms.
- Season the liquid with a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil.
- Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce the quantity to about half of the original volume.
- Combine two teaspoons of cornflour and a tablespoon of water to form the cornstarch slurry. Add the slurry to thicken the gravy.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle a tablespoon of thinly sliced scallion into the gravy.
b. Is the gravy necessary for this stuffed cabbage roll recipe?
The sauce is not necessary if you season the stuffed cabbage well. You may want to serve it without the sauce.
I make the sauce because throwing away the liquid released from the cabbage rolls during steaming is a waste. The liquid is so flavorful that it tastes like a concentrated stock. Therefore, I reduce it with the water for soaking the mushrooms (which have lots of flavors) and thicken it to become a gravy with cornstarch. Season the gravy with additional light soy sauce, sesame oil (and some vinegar if you like), and it is heavenly!
5. More about cabbage rolls
a. The best way to serve the stuffed cabbage
This cabbage roll recipe yields twelve large rolls, best served with white rice. However, you can reduce the stuffing of this cabbage roll recipe to make it smaller and steam it with the bamboo steamer if you intend to use it as part of the repertoire of the dim sum spread.
Other stuffed cabbage roll recipes are quite different from this Chinese cabbage roll recipe. For example, some versions of cabbage rolls may include brown sugar, tangy tomato sauce, sour cream, and Worcestershire sauce. Another great variation is to make cabbage roll soup. The preparation method is similar, except the cabbage rolls are cooked in a soup base instead of steaming. You can use a slow cooker to make the soup as it is much more convenient and save time.
b. How long can I keep the cooked cabbage rolls in the refrigerator?
Cabbage rolls are best to eat while it is fresh. If you intend to store them in the refrigerator overnight or longer, place them in a shallow, airtight container or wrap them tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. It can be kept for up to three days if correctly done.
For the stuffing: (A)
- 450g minced pork (or chicken/shrimp)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp rice wine (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 5 medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms
- 3 stalks scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 small onion (about 80g)
For the gravy: (B)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp cornstarch (mix with 1 tbsp water)
- Water soaking the mushrooms
- Liquid release from the cabbage rolls after steaming
- 1 tbsp scallion, thinly sliced
For the cabbage rolls
- Mix the minced meat with all the ingredients in (A). Mix well until it becomes a sticky paste.
- Remove the core of the round cabbage.
- Blanch the cabbage in boiling water until the leaves loosen from the core. Remove and drain.
- Trim the thick veins of the leaves so that it is pliable when folding.
- Divide the stuffing into twelve equal portions. Place a portion of the stuffing on a piece of cabbage. Fold and wrap to encase the stuffing.
- Place the cabbage rolls in a plate, seam side down. Steam the cabbage rolls over medium heat for fifteen minutes. Remove.
For the gravy
- Mix the cornstarch and the water for soaking the mushrooms to form a cornstarch slurry.
- Collect the liquid formed during steaming. Pour it into a pan. Add the water for soaking the mushrooms. Season the gravy with light soy sauce and sesame oil. Let it cook down to half of the volume. Thicken with cornstarch slurry.
- Sprinkle some sliced scallions into the gravy. Drizzle on the cabbage rolls. Serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 128Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 35mgSodium: 469mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 11g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 3/15/2020